Thursday, 5 January 2012

river of doubt


Theodore Roosevelt had carried the lethal dose of morphine with him for years. He had taken it to the American West, to the African savanna and, finally, down the River of Doubt--a twisting tributary deep in the Amazon rain forest. The glass vial was small enough to tuck into a leather satchel or slip into his luggage, nearly invisible beside his books, his socks and his eight extra pairs of eyeglasses. Easily overlooked, it was perhaps the most private possession of one of the world's most public men.

In December 1913, Roosevelt, then 55, and a small group of men embarked on a journey to explore and map Brazil's River of Doubt. Almost from the start, the expedition went disastrously wrong. Just three months later, as Roosevelt lay on a rusting cot inside his expedition's last remaining tent listening to the roar of the river, he clutched the vial that he had carried for so long. Shivering violently, his body wracked with fever, he concluded that the time had come to take his own life.


I love it when Time Magazine appears in a set of search results. I've never looked on Time's site systematically, but it is full of great things, and they might be written in 1904 or they might, like the above, be written in 2006. It's by Candice Millard, and based on her book about Roosevelt's expedition to the River of Doubt (now the Rio Roosevelt) along with his son Kermit and a Brazilian called Colonel Candido Rondon, whose approach to native tribesmen, who attacked him and killed his dog, was 'Die if you must, but never kill.'

The book's gone on my reading list. My reading list is so long.

(Incidentally, in case you don't know, a tuna was sold in the first market of the year in Tokyo for about £500,000. Once upon a time, when I was new at being obsessed with tuna, people didn't believe me when I quoted £50,000. A tuna cost £500,000. Why? Partly it's because Tokyo restaurants have got into the theatre of paying a fortune for tuna at this first market, but basically it's because they're endangered.)

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